Interview with Raffaele Maiorano

Raffaele Maiorano, Confagricoltura delegate for sustainability and  SDGs .

In your opinion, can SDGs play a role in the the specific nature, uniqueness and authenticity of local solutions in order to implement environmental protection principles and lower pressure on biodiversity?

We have now entered the decade of the SDGs, from 2020 we have exactly 10 years to achieve the Agenda 2030 objectives. While having a discussion with representatives of the United Nations there was talk on how the SDGs could help us emerge from the crisis and how the concept of sustainable development can help companies, in my case, those of the agri-food industry, but also companies from other sectors or the very same smart cities that have a strong association with SDGs in facing the many problems we experience in everyday life.

In the agri-food industry it is inevitable and there were already some insights on the issue (which I got to examine in depth in my book SDGs 4 Business): how can a business today, starting from a concept of economic sustainability and the ability to measure its impact, put into practice a series of investments on sustainability and have a virtuous impact on environmental and social sustainability. We started from the assumption that the sustainability model needed to be changed. Today we are used to perceiving it as a top-down experience: governments, nations, even the United Nations and its representatives and an entirety of politics and policies, act by forcing a  change to processes, to products, to change  entrepreneurial thinking, resulting in a hugely expensive process. And today it really is expensive for a company, especially considering the current unexpected crisis: lack of income, markets, especially financial ones, at a standtill. In a period like this one, asking a company to change processes and products simply does not happen overnight. What did we come up with? Starting from a bottom up situation, in which, before changing the impact, the process, the product, I can make a real calculation on the real affordability of taking an action aimed at fostering sustainability. The change becomes positive and virtuous when, through business planning or other business calculation models, a positive calculation is drawn. If I have an advantage as an entrepreneur, then I will also have an advantage from an environmental and social point of view, as a citizen and inhabitant of this planet and for the future generations. This approach is more important from a local point of view rather than an international one. Because many localities should easily be able to reach a goal, without having to modify standards, processes and products excessively, without having to bear any extra costs and yet present a huge advantage for companies.

What are the integrated and interdisciplinary management methods at national and international level, which take into account the threats to food, to water and to energy production as well as the conservation of biodiversity?

We have often discussed this point within Confagricoltura and we must start from two main concepts: on one hand there is precision farming, which today allows you to use innovation and technology to optimize field operations, to reduce consumption and waste, to intervene focusing on limiting the consumption of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It is essential to incentivize and foster the use of precision farming in the first part of the agricultural production chain. The second concept is smart farming, the opportunity to create a system, to create a circular economy, considering waste as something potentially useful, of sustenance, considering diversity and biodiversity as a new stimulus for undertaking ancillary economic activities, use renewable sources. Generally speaking, it is important to talk about systemic thinking: the ability to be smart, interconnected, digital, to have company activities under control and consequently communicate effectively and responsively throughout the production chain. In this way not only traceability is fostered, using blockchain and a number of other tools, but there will also be a control along the production chain, with supply and demand. Endorsing the concept of objective and replicable quality.

In my opinion, with reference to these two issues we are have been making progress and from an economic sustainability point of view the advantage is consolidated.

There is a lot of talk about smart farming, innovation 4.0 applied to farming It is difficult to pass on and promote this knowledge to the general public. What could the incentives and the key to communication be, to ensure that the advantages of sustainable farming, it respects the environment, biodiversity and the community, are conveyed? And what are your thoughts on the issue of pollinators,  so crucial in farming?

How do you get to the consumer? It is necessary to identify the right storytelling process:  the production chain that has zero emissions, by doing things in a certain way, by polluting less, by producing rationally. It makes for a product that is not only better but most certainly cleaner and one that deserves to be appreciated.

To make all this happen, from an international point of view there must be an incentive based coercive system aimed at better production. If it is impossible to do storytelling on a systemic level, then there must be a massive international communication campaign towards a tracked, quality product, endorsing its food print. There must be intergovernmental support. And it must be systemic.

SDGs most definitely help. I personally believe that if we work well over the next decade, by measuring SDGs, we will be able to cut out the countless certifications that are needed to date and which ultimately lead to confusion. Too much information leads to confusion.

If there are guidelines that define sustainability, by assigning values and ratings-an index on which we are working on with the United Nations and the FAO- then valorization is attainable.

This applies to pollinators. Bees are essential. In Confagricoltura there is the Federation of Italian Beekeepers which campaigns a great deal for the protection and saving of bees and the profession of beekeepers Climate change, water shortages, rising temperatures are bad news for insects as well as for agriculture. If agriculture is under attack, it is not controlled and insects are the first victims. Again, we are back to the value of a systemic thought. To be able to have a great project, in which biodiversity is safe-guarded, in which there is attention to precision farming, in which farming becomes smart, a circular economy is used. All perfectly bound to a logic of profit. If companies close in order to be socially or environmentally advantageous, then it becomes difficult to safe-guard insects. I strongly believe in the activity of farming and the economic factor is essential for which international cooperation is  needed, organizations must work in a certain way, politicans and their policies must not work on the basis of immediate consensus but try to focus on a strategic and sistemic approach. The green new deal represents a truly exceptional step. We must also see what actions the other continents will take. If only Europe is virtuous we will literally be invaded by products made the old way. The same level of attention to quality and sustainability is necessary. The world is only one and the Planet a finite resource, we simply can not think and act as if we have unlimited resources.